Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Mollie's Announcement

TigerBlog often goes back to his newspaper days and the lessons he learned there. 

One of them was that in the world of sports, you can only anticipate so much. You'll lay the paper out in the afternoon, one of his early mentors said, and then somebody throws a perfect game that night.

In other words, in sports, you never know what's going to happen next. 

Around the time that TB was learning about all that, he also met a student-worker in the Princeton University Office of Athletic Communications. She was a two-sport athlete, and she sat in the back room and did things like update the record books.

At the time, neither she nor anyone else had any idea that her legacy at Princeton would extend far beyond her accomplishments in soccer and hockey, substantial as they might be. And so it was that the final paragraphs of her Princeton story were not written back then but instead 30 years later, when that same young woman – Mollie Marcoux Samaan – dropped the stunning news yesterday that she was leaving her position as the Ford Family Director of Athletics at Princeton to become the commissioner of the LPGA.

TB knew something very out of the ordinary was about to happen when he received word early yesterday that there was an emergency senior staff meeting at 10, followed by a full department meeting at 10:15. What could it be? His mind ran the gamut, and when it got to "Mollie is leaving," it skipped right over that because it seemed so unthinkable.

Instead, that's exactly what it was. 

The news brings an end to Mollie's run after seven years as the first female Director of Athletics at Princeton. Her tenure has been one of overwhelming success on the field and unwavering commitment to the values that she cherishes off the field, the values that are encapsulated as "Education Through Athletics." The combination of her time as the AD along with her athletic performance as an undergraduate makes her one of the most important Princetonians the Department of Athletics has ever seen.

Her record as the AD is an impressive one. This is just a small sampling, taken from the release announcing her move:

Under her supervision, Princeton has won 65 Ivy League championships, a total that is more than all other Ivy schools during that time. Over the course of her tenure Princeton has been the highest ranked Ivy League school and consistently in the top 40 of all of Division I programs in the Directors' Cup standings, measuring overall athletic success through NCAA championship participation and success. Princeton's student-athletes have also excelled in the classroom and in the community during Marcoux Samaan's tenure. The department's NCAA Academic Progress Rate has consistently ranked among the best in the nation and student-athletes have garnered several University and national awards, including the Pyne Prize, Princeton's highest general distinction conferred on an undergraduate.

For TigerBlog, that won't be what he remembers first about Mollie Marcoux Samaan though.

Mollie is, first and foremost, defined by her personality and her spirit. 

She is always in motion. She is a seemingly endless pile of energy. She is always positive. She can take any situation and come away at the end by saying these words, which TB has heard her say so many times: "It's going to be great."

She starts senior staff meetings each Monday by asking to hear something fun that someone, or everyone, did over the weekend. She's just a completely upbeat person, and "fun" is one of her favorite words. 

As invested as she has been in the people who have worked for her, it's the ones who have played for her whom she loves the most. In his upcoming book on the first 50 years of women's athletics at Princeton, TB referred to Mollie as "part CEO and part head cheerleader," and she loved the description. She is, in many ways, one of the student-athletes, fueled by her own experience and the lifelong friendships she made as a Tiger and so thankful for the chance to help the current generations have the best possible experiences they could have.

The last 14 months, of course, have been the greatest challenge any Princeton AD has had to negotiate. The COVID pandemic shut down Princeton sports in a way that they never had been since they first began, and it was excruciating for Mollie to have to be the bearer of bad news, to staff and to students. She ached for the athletes in particular.

At the same time, she did something extraordinary these last 14 months. She kept the Princeton Athletics connection strong and important. She kept everyone positive. She did what she does best – she turned negatives into positives. Those efforts will resonate with the athletes here for a long time.

Now it's time for Mollie to move on. She is super competitive, and golf has always been one of her sporting passions (along with ping pong). The chance to run the LPGA was too much for her to turn down, even if it meant leaving a job she's loved.

She will take with her the experience she has as a businesswoman and executive, and you can bet your last dollar that she'll do everything she can to make the LPGA fun. She was also stay true to these words: Accountability. Teamwork. Integrity. Growth-minded. Engaged. Respectful.

Those are the "Be A Tiger" values that she helped define and implement at Princeton. To her, they have  been so much more than just words on a t-shirt. They are words to live by, and that's exactly what she's done.

The meetings yesterday morning were emotional, and it's clear just how much Mollie will miss Princeton. She is ferocious, and she is fun. It's a great combination.

She leaves quite a legacy. TB joins with everyone at Princeton, all of the coaches, staff, athletes, alums and everyone else at the University, in wishing her the best, congratulating her on her new position and thanking her for everything she gave during her seven years as Director of Athletics.

She will be missed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm also very sad to see her go. She did a good job running the department and I can't think of a single quibble from my end.

Still, I was just thinking of the success that Princeton had in the past under Gary Walters. There weren't just Ivy League championships but national ones. Teams that once won on the national scale (swimming, lacrosse and field hockey to name a few) aren't winning as much outside of the league.

Much of this seems to be a decision from the level above the AD. Certainly I don't think it was the athletic departments that came up with the COVID bury-our-heads-in-the-sand ploy. It was pretty embarrassing to see so many schools compete effectively and safely over this last year.

The next AD will need to be able to work with the people in power who flaunt their academic privilege. It will be a difficult challenge to continue to remind people of the value of college athletics. I don't envy that person.